Encounters of the wild variety

Encounters of the wild variety

I was heading for Bandipur, hailed as one of the premier wild life sanctuaries of the country and  a frequently visited wildlife destination. 

Like most other national parks of the State, Bandipur too traces its origin to the erstwhile hunting grounds of the Maharajas for whom hunting expeditions into pristine jungles were both a pastime and a show of prowess.

With the passage of time, as the need to conserve forests and wildlife gained importance, these hunting arenas were turned into patches of wildlife parks and reserves.

Thus, the Bandipur jungle became a reserved forest in 1931. Later on, it also became a national park with more forest area included in its boundaries. But the significant step to increase the efforts for conservation of wildlife, particularly the dwindling tiger, was to declare it a Tiger Reserve in 1973 under Project Tiger.

Bandipur was in fact, one of the very first nine such reserves, and the first in Karnataka. It was obvious that Bandipur got top priority among wildlife parks of the State because of its terrain and topography, its location and the water resources. Nestled in a corridor of mountainous landscape with the towering Nilgiri ranges to the south and the slopes of the Western Ghats to the west, it is a highway of sorts for migrating wildlife.

With three rivers, the Moyar from Nilgiris, Kabini and Nugu from the Western Ghats flowing through, a good number of streams and waterholes are spread throughout the sanctuary. As a result, the flora too has diversified from scrub jungles to dry and moist deciduous forests making it a conducive environment for wildlife.

The healthy increase in the population of tigers which was hardly into double digits in the 1970s to more than a hundred at present amply substantiates the success of the Project Tiger. The predator being at the top of the food chain, it speaks for the thriving numbers of other wildlife species too. Now with 874 sq. km of forest area, Bandipur National Park, along with the adjoining Mudumalai, Wayanad and Nagarahole parks, forms an integral part of the Nilgiri Biosphere reserve.

Though this was not the first visit to Bandipur, I did not carry any high hopes of sighting the elusive tiger. It was just to see other animals and birds apart from enjoying the lush green ambience. The Bandipur region has a resort maintained by Jungle Lodges & Resorts. The ambience of the cottages and the location generate a true atmosphere of wilderness.

As we embarked on the evening safari, Nataraj, our efficient guide soon spotted an eagle on a leafless tree. It was a changeable hawk eagle, he said, and for many of us it was the first sighting. Foraying deeper into the network of game roads, we were frequently rewarded with herds of spotted deer and the odd peacock

Among the terrestrial birds, the grey jungle fowl, which is endemic to India seemed to be common as it crossed our roads quite often. It may not be a much sought-after sighting, but a closer look reveals it is a colourful bird too with a red crest and sharp patterns of grey and yellow on its back.

The driver of the jeep who knew the forests like the back of his palm decided to take us to a particular spot where an elephant with a solitary tusk had been sighted recently. We were thrilled to watch this rare tusker. The next day’s safari promised even more. There were wild boars, a barking deer and a sambar deer with its large leaf-like ears.

With over 200 species of birds, Bandipur is the place to go for bird-lovers. With the help of the guide, we could spot some unique birds like the flame backed wood pecker, the racket tailed drongo and the Malabar parakeets. A pair of gaur grazing away was the last spectacle as the safari culminated. As expected, we did not see a leopard or a tiger. But we did see the wildlife and some rare birds. Above all, spending a couple of days in a pristine jungle in a salubrious climate was truly invigorating.

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